IF you don’t come out of The 39 Steps at the Oxford Playhouse with an ear-to-ear grin lasting two hours then you probably didn’t go in the first place.
IF you don’t come out of The 39 Steps at the Oxford Playhouse with an ear-to-ear grin lasting two hours then you probably didn’t go in the first place. This production is a hoot from beginning to end.
There’s a great deal of affection for the old tale in this production, but very little in the way of respect, and it’s all the better for it. Just about everyone knows of the three films and ITV drama featuring the adventures of Richard Hannay. In their time they had a serious message about fifth columnists, totalitarianism and its ruthlessness, but it’s a clunky plot by modern standards, and all that is swept away in this show as the whole thing is played for laughs. When Hannay is chased across the Scottish Moors they do it with shadow puppets.
The cast of just four take on a bewildering number of roles, sometimes at breakneck speed. When this version first surfaced Henley’s favourite son, Simon Williams, took the Hannay part. This time it goes to Richard Ede who shines as the old-fashioned, chivalrous army officer.
Everything is played with a metaphorical wink to the audience. The scenery is stripped to doors, window frames, stepladders and suitcases which double up for everything. Their use is intrinsically funny although perhaps there’s a tendency to over-egg it sometimes. However director Maria Aitken wrings every last chuckle from the audience. The story remains the same, the intention is absolutely changed.
lThe 39 Steps continues until Saturday. Box office: 01865 305305 or visit www.oxfordplayhouse.com